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Thursday, January 19, 2006

 

Super 14: Focus on Auckland Blues


Source: thesilverfern.com
Article by Mingster

There is a fresh look to the Blues in 2006, with a new coach, and core of players leaving the franchise. After a disappointing 2004 and 2005 season where they finished 7th despite a late surge, they will be out to impress this season after successful Auckland and North Harbour NPC campaigns.

Changes

There was much controversy over the selection of the 2006 Blues squad, and in the end, one must say the 28-man is weaker than expected largely because of the implementation of the draft system which has seen talents such as Brad Mika, Paul Williams, Isaia Toeava, Andrew Blowers and Sam Tuitupou drafted to other franchises. From a NZ rugby standpoint, this is great news as it allows the chance for the above to obtain consistent game time, but from a Blues point of view, they should feel robbed. Nucifora was forced to pick the flaky Rua Tipoki by the NZRFU, and as a consequence, they had to let an All Black go.

There is a record nine Harbour players in the squad, compared to five in 05, and four in 04. The newcomers include lanky blindside-cum-lock Anthony Boric, hardworking lock Kurtis Haiu, under-rated Northland halfback John Senio, the unheralded prop Mike Noble and pacy outside backs George Pisi and Vili Waqaseduadua. The Blues have gained the services of the returning Troy Flavell, who will be out to impress after being lured back to NZ by Graham Henry. Brent Ward and Anthony Tuitavake will also be playing in Blues' colours in 06, after representing the Hurricanes and Highlanders respectively last year.

Altogether there are 10 changes from the squad in 05, and the most notable are the departures of Xavier Rush, Mils Muliaina, Carlos Spencer and the unavailability of Jerome Kaino.

Gains: Anthony Boric, Tim Dow, Troy Flavell, Kurtis Haiu, Mike Noble, George Pisi, Anthony Tuitavake, Rua Tipoki, Vili Wagaseduadua, Brent Ward

Losses: Taufa’ao Filise, Jerome Kaino, Sam Tuitupou, Mils Muliaina, Xavier Rush, David Gibson, Tom Harding, Rudi Wulf, Brad Mika

Strengths

With half of the squad possessing international experience, the Blues are a very impressive side on paper as usual. Even with Muliaina moving to the Chiefs, the Blues still have the most potent set of outside backs in the competition with All Black wingers Joe Rokocoko and Doug Howlett, as well as exciting utility Isa Nacewa and the ever reliable Brent Ward.

The tight five has a solid look to it, with Rawlinson the only one without All Black credentials, although he will come close once he is eligible in June. Ali Williams has improved vastly, and will be the lineout kingpin, and there will be good backup from the rugged Rawlinson as well as the promising Haiu and Boric. The scrum will be vital to securing good ball for the lethal backs to work from, and the Blues’ possess arguably the best scrum in the land with All Blacks Mealamu, Afoa, Taumoepeau and the world class Woodcock.

Weaknesses

It’s a new look Blues squad, and so far no captain has been named yet. Although there is a nucleus of experienced players such as Mealamu, Ali Williams, MacDonald, Devine, Howlett, Collins, picking a captain is not so straightforward. Collins led Auckland to the NPC title last year, but he isn’t assured of a starting spot in the Blues. Some have called for Williams’ to shoulder the extra responsibility as a sign of his growing maturity, but it’s still probably a season too early. The Blues will miss Rush’s direct approach from previous seasons.

Luke McAlister will be vital to the team’s success, and will probably be utilized at second-five with Lavea at 10. Even though the backline is filled with potential, there is inexperience in the midfield as well as 10. Should Devine continue to struggle with injury problems, rookie John Senio would be next in line with Gibson ruled out of the S14. A lack of depth in key positions could be exposed should an injury crisis arise like in 05.

Draw

Only two home games in the first seven rounds should lead to a strong surge in the business end of the S14.

Questions

Who will be the captain? Angus MacDonald is my pick.
Can the Blues start well in the competition and will they lag behind again by mid-competition?
What will be the midfield combination?

Look out for

Isa Nacewa. The flying Fijian is a rare genuine utility with the ability to play right through the backline with the exception of halfback. He has applied for a dispensation to play for the All Blacks after representing Fiji for a few minutes in the 03WC. Had Nacewa been available last year, he would have came very close to making the UK touring squad. Even though he played 12 in the NPC, he will likely be used at fullback or centre, where his attacking skills will be very handy.

Likely starting XV

15 Nacewa, 14 Howlett, 13 Tuitavake, 12 McAlister, 11 Rokocoko, 10 Lavea, 9 Devine; 8 MacDonald (c), 7 Braid, 6 Collins, 5 Williams, 4 Rawlinson, 3 Afoa, 2 Mealamu, 1 Woodcock

Prediction

S14 Champions.
Comments:
Quite a good read


Yip the Blues will be hardcore, Cheetahs playing them at home after the TRIP, wonder what the Blues game it will be in SA- hope it is the third.

Lot of newcomers- wonder how they will travel to our dusty outback- ;-)

It also seems that there will be a lot of rookie captains in this years S14?

Maybe the stats people should write an arti on it

How about it DavidS- you are strongly opinionated on Leadership & Captaincy, as well as PA?
 
I'm looking at one already OO.

PA is a onfield leadership man. I'm not really.
 
That's an awsome backline with only the No.9 not being of International standard,

Patrick.
 
atrick

I'm tippingthem for at the very least a semi, and more probably final berth.

You reckon it'll be a Blues / Cants final?

Who do you rate between the two?
 
David,

It's too early to speculate but there are a couple of things to think about. Firstly David Nucifora will have has first taste of NZ players, and how will he re-act to the vociferous NZ fans. He also is the first Blues Coach/Selector who has had his team re-selected by the NZRU stepping in - before this point the Blues have only selected Harbour players as a very last resort - there is a long going history of problems between the two Unions, ie, Auckland and Harbour.

On the other side of the coin is the fact that Canty are now losing many of their stars to old age and the overseas pot of gold.

If Nucifora can get his squad to gell by about the 3rd. or 4th. game he will stand an excellent chance of coming out close to the top. There is also the Highlander mob to consider because they are slowing getting some allround strength, on paper anyway. The Hurricanes are still marching upwards and they have a better looking squad this season. But we wont know until the Comp proper starts, as that always sets out the men from the boys,

Patrick
 
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